Let’s talk about what we feed our children

Today I want to talk about what we feed our children. I know that it is an incredibly heated topic, one that can really make people (parents, I mean) defensive and emotional. I know that 99% of the time, the defences used will be something along the lines of…

“I just CANNOT get him/her to eat anything else.”

“There is NO WAY that we can get him/her to eat the veggies.”

“I’m too tired, and it’s so much easier to give him/her what he/she wants.”

I know, because I’ve used these lines myself.

But let’s be real with ourselves here. We are facing an epidemic on a scale never seen before. Our children are becoming increasingly obese. In Australia alone, “the number of overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years, with a quarter of children considered overweight or obese.” (From betterhealth.vic.gov.au). And in adults the statistics are even more shocking. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics“in 2011-12, 62.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese.”

Considering such ominous stats and facing the reality of being surrounded by an unwholesome food environment and culture, we decided to speak to someone who knows much more about how important it is to eat well, who is an expert in her field. We asked Iman Salam, who has three grown children of her own, from Afiya Live Well to answer a few questions about the importance of eating nutritious food and instilling good eating habits in our children.

What impact does eating ‘bad food’ (e.g. highly processed, high in sugar, soft drinks etc.) have on children’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being?

Junk food has a highly addictive nature for children. Although it can look appealing and of course taste great, children simply do not realise the ill effects it has on their health, as well as on their growing bodies. The physical complications are many; obesity,  diabetes, chronic illness,  low self esteem, and even depression.

As for mental and spiritual well-being eating a diet heavy in unhealthy foods including low nutrient dense foods can be a cause of behavioural and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression and stress.

What are some of the problematic eating habits amongst families that you have seen?

First of all not eating as a family. I’ve heard of families grabbing food and everyone eating in their own corner, on their phone, or in front of the tv. This not only causes a breakdown in family relations but eating in front of an electronic device creates an unhealthy relationship with food as well as a habit of mindless eating.

Second, the emphasis put on finishing your plate, food as reward, etc creates a long-lasting negative relationship with food. Often times being forced to clean our plates as children develops into emotional eating, overeating, and eating disorders. A healthy way to start each meal is to remember to praise God, make the intention to get the most benefit out of the meal and start with a small serving. Just as important is listening to your body and knowing when to stop before you get full. *Editor’s addition: Children have an innate ability to know when they are full, and will often assert when they have eaten enough. It is usually the adults who push them to eat more, thus breaking this natural instinct to stop eating when full. 

How can parents instil positive eating habits in their children?

Children learn from seeing so therefore setting an example is the best way to teach our children. We have to remember that our food is a blessing and it starts long before it gets to our dining table.  Teaching children the value of food and where it comes from is important. It helps to reconnect the child to mother earth and have a deeper appreciation for nature as well as the food that is put into their bodies. Being involved in a local CSA or visiting your local farm is a beautiful thing to do as a family. It’s also extremely rewarding for the soul. Don’t be afraid to get your kids to help in the kitchen, give them small tasks that they can do to help prepare dinner. This will give them a sense of ownership and pride and make them more likely to eat what they’ve helped in preparing.

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Image via Marche + Atelier

What types of food should children not be eating? 

SUGAR!!!!! (artificial).  You would be surprised to learn that it’s in everything, even toothpaste. Be aware of the different names for sugar. I know what you’re thinking, “it’s hard to avoid.” If you focus on what is in your control, your own home, then when kids are at their grandparent’s house or at a birthday party, you won’t feel so bad that they are most probably going to eat sugar.  Cut back on the amount of meat and milk as tons of hormones are injected into these animals and this is causing life-long damage on their growing bodies.

Which foods have the best nutritional value for children?

It’s important to keep in mind that children need a diet containing a variety of foods. Protein, Carbohydrates, and good fats are all essential for their growing bodies. When choosing animal protein look for grass fed, free range, organic meats. And keep in mind that protein can come from other foods as well, beans, legumes, and dark leafy veggies. Aim to have one night a week meat free.

Aim for five servings of fruits and veggies each day, but keep in mind that portion size will differ depending on your child and their activity level. If your child isn’t a fan of veggies sneak them into a smoothie. Get creative with veggies, you’ll often be surprised with what your child will love. *Editor’s addition: Don’t hold back from offering them new vegetables. The worst that could happen is that they don’t eat it, the best is that they try it, and like it. 

Some good sources of carbs include whole wheat pasta and breads, barley, acorn squash and green peas. Healthy fats include avocado, ghee, and salmon (look for non-farmed options, which you can ask the shop owners about).

Don’t get too stressed with picky eaters, do your best and aim for at least one healthy meal a day.

How important is it to eat organic foods?

Eating organic foods is important in this day and age. Yet, no doubt, it can get expensive. Decide what you can and cannot afford for your family’s needs and work accordingly within those boundaries. Being educated on the ill-effects  of consuming non-organic meat is important. If that means cutting back on meat, then do what you think is best for your family. As Muslims we are held accountable for the food we eat and that includes the care of animals. When it comes to whether something is deemed “halal”, we often forget that it includes more than just the way the animal is slaughtered but how it was raised and the conditions it was in before being slaughtered. *Editor’s note: It is important to consider and understand that if an animal has been raised and slaughtered in a stressful environment, it will affect its body, and therefore its meat. If we then eat this meat from a stressed and anxious animal, it does affect our own spiritual, mental and physical well-being. Eating does have a spiritual dimension, and we cannot disregard this. 

When it comes to things like fruits and veggies, there are some that have more pesticides sprayed on them than others. These are the worst contaminated fruits and vegetables:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

If you can stay clear of these and focus on organic, great! Otherwise a great tip that helps reduce the dirty film is a solution of vinegar and water (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar is most effective).

Can you give us some ideas for a healthy (and easy to put together) lunchbox?

  • My kids love hummus! I mean, who doesn’t 🙂 Hummus wraps with cucumber and bell pepper.
  • Tuna sandwiches on whole wheat bread. I like to use Avocado (insert heart eyes) mash, instead of mayo.
  • Whole wheat pasta with pumpkin.
  • Lentil soup.
  • Quinoa with chopped tomato,cucumber, and added black beans.
  • Sweet potato and black bean burrito bowl.

Iman Salam is an American currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Her desire for a better lifestyle and health led her to study integrative nutrition. She holds a Diploma in Preventative Health & Nutrition,  Executive Master’s in Preventative Health and Nutrition, and is a certified Personal Trainer. Currently, she works as a Nutrition Consultant and is studying to be a Practitioner in Prophetic medicine.  Her goal is to revive the sunnah of well-being by encouraging the beneficial practices of prophetic medicine. Iman is the producer and host on DOPStv YouTube show “Afiya Live Well”, a program that promotes the Prophetic diet, nutrition, and overall well-being of the body

Featured image via Hideaki Hamada.

A Lebanese-Australian Sausage Roll

Today we are excited to bring to you our first food blogger contribution, by the wonderfully talented Lina J from The Lebanese Plate. Lina started off her working career very much like me, as an English/History teacher, until life threw her in a different direction and she took up photography and combined this with her love of good food. 

The Lebanese Plate is partly about food photography, partly food styling & certainly a lot to do with sharing her love for this cuisine. But overall, the main concept came from wanting to hang on to a special part of her Lebanese heritage, and fusing it with her Australian identity. 

Her first contribution to The Modest Life is a perfect example of this… Enjoy! 

Written by Lina J

Trying to please the whole family when it comes to mealtime isn’t the easiest of tasks. Over the years I’ve had a crack at many tricks, sneaky ones and some not so subtle, to get my kids to eat what I cook. I’m also not ashamed to say I’ve used bribery! ‘No dinner, no dessert,’ is not one that I use often, but it ALWAYS works, even now with my three eldest at age 15, 12 and 10!

What I’ve never subscribed to, though, is a ‘cook more than one meal so everyone is happy’ type of approach. And really I’ve never had time to do just that. Instead I’ve grown to be a strong believer in the rules on the sign below (an actual sign that you’ll find hanging on my kitchen wall!). This is what my kids have become accustomed to and although they may still resist sometimes, they will eat what’s put in front of them.

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Now before you judge me and say, ‘yeah right’, I’m making this up, they can’t possibly eat everything you cook! Well, in short the answer is yes, they do. Not because they were touched by some positive eating fairy and certainly not because they’re perfect kids but because after many bouts of tears and tantrums at the table, they realised that ‘no substitutions’ and ‘no complaining’ was the only way.

It wasn’t easy. It did take a lot of hard work and an abundance of patience over years, not weeks or months!

Nowadays, my ‘tricks’ have changed. They’re a bit older with a more ‘Mum, you can’t fool me’ attitude. So I try to be a bit more creative to get them interested and excited about the meal. I get them in the kitchen as much as possible too, where they help with the prep and cooking, which I find always works. And, of course, I now know what’s going to be a winner, so I try to cook those meals on a regular basis.

Some of the ‘winners’ at my place are burritos, most things kafta, meat pies and the good old flaky, meaty sausage rolls.

The humble Aussie sausage roll…or is it?

With a quick ‘googling’ I quickly realised that the Aussie sausage roll is not authentically Aussie! Say what?

Yep, the sausage roll actually came over from Britain. This is perfectly ok, of course, being the loving and diverse Nation we are, we welcomed her in with open arms and accepted her as one of our own.

I don’t mind a good sausage roll, but personally I’ve never really liked a packaged one. I always wonder what’s packed into the meat filling that usually tastes bland unless it’s drenched in tomato sauce (side note: meat pies and sausage rolls, the only times where drenching with tomato sauce is forgivable haha). So I always try and make my own.

Naturally, me being me, I decided to turn the sausage roll on it’s flaky head and give it a Lebanese touch.

In this recipe I use chicken mince and added Lebanese flavours, which the whole family really enjoyed. I hope your family does too!

Lebanese-Australian Sausage Rolls

What you’ll need:

  • 500g thigh mince
  • 500g breast mince
  • 1 onion (large, finely chopped)
  • 1/2 red capsicum (diced, small cubes)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons baharat (Baharat is a Lebanese 7 spice mix; sometimes called ‘7 spices’ in Arabic. It’s made up of a mix of paprika, pepper, cumin, cloves, coriander seed, cardamom and nutmeg. You can find ‘baharat’ at most Middle Eastern grocers & some supermarket chains.)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup finely chopped continental parsley
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (3-4 slices of bread, processed into fine crumb)
  • 2 eggs
  • Use 6 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 egg (extra for brushing)
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seed

Method

1. Remove puff pastry sheets from freezer.

2. Preheat your oven to 200ºC and line two oven trays with baking paper.

3. Place thigh & breast mince into a large bowl with the chopped onion, chopped capsicum, salt, baharat, pepper, parsley, breadcrumbs & 2 eggs.

4. Mix to combine all ingredients really well.

prepsausage5. One at a time, cut a pastry sheet in half. Take approximately ½ cup of the mince mixture and spread it out evenly across long side of pastry sheet.

6. Roll up to enclose filling, and cut into 3 pieces (about 8cm in length).

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7. Place each roll on oven tray about 2cm apart.

8. Beat remaining egg and brush tops and sprinkle with a little of the poppy seeds.

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9. Bake at 200º for about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 180º and bake for a further 5 – 10 minutes. Sausage rolls should be golden brown, crispy and filling cooked through.

Enjoy with tomato sauce or a Sumac Yoghurt (1 cup greek yoghurt mixed with one teaspoon of sumac).

Makes approximately 36 rolls

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The ‘P’ in ‘Parenting’ is for Perseverance

My daughter is not what you’d call a “good eater”. In fact, the year she turned two, I don’t think she ate much at all. The. Whole. Year. My parents would berate me about it every time we went over for dinner. And over the phone in between visits. Although my daughter was a chubby little infant with splendidly round cheeks, chunky thighs and pot belly due to the copious amounts of broccoli, brown rice, corn, pasta, soups, etc etc she was happy for me to shovel down her throat, by the time she was 2.5, she had become all bones, and rib cages, with long gangly legs. Splendidly round cheeks (to our delight), remained.

So what happened? I got this question a lot. By said grandparents. And friends. And strangers.

My answer often sounded like this:

“Ummm, she turned TWO.”

And to the question, “how long has this been going on?”

“Uh, about a year.”

The fact is, her less than impressive eating habits were causing me much anxiety about her health (although she rarely fell sick now that I think about it), my perceived view that she had sallow face and sunken eyes as a result of a lack of nutrition, and of course, my parenting, or lack thereof.

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When she hit 3, her ‘attitude’ was steeled by her innate stubbornness of character combined with the courage to lash out with epic meltdowns every meal time. Meltdowns that consisted of kicking, screaming, and ultimately writhing on the floor like an eel topped off by a puddly mess of tears and wild hair.

Not pretty.

And not exactly what a mother could deal with. Especially one who recently had another baby (why oh why!!!) who refused to accept that she had exited the womb and now had to exist separately from the being who owned the womb and therefore stubbornly insisted on being held by said being. All. The. Time.

Now, my eldest is bordering on age 4 and things have started to change. She eats her food. She eats EVERYTHING on the plate. Not without consternation of course. But at least she doesn’t merely LOOK at it and turn away. She eats the green lentil soup loaded with veggies. She eats the pizza. With the topping. She has become more courageous in trying what’s on her plate as opposed to down right rejecting it.

And it has given me an opportunity to reflect on why. On what we (my husband and I) actually did right for this transformation to occur. Because I have come to accept that maybe, just maybe, we did SOMETHING right.

So here goes:

We continued to offer her the vegetables. We didn’t stop giving her veggies just because we “knew” that she didn’t like it. I once read about how the French teach their children table manners, and one of the ideals that struck me was that they kept offering a child the same food over and over, because apparently, a child has to try something at least SEVEN times before they can decide whether they like it or not.

Giving your child the ‘easier’ but deep-fried, processed food because “at least they are eating something” might work for you in the short term, but it will set them up for bad eating habits, weight gain and behavioural issues.

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I know the desperation a mother feels when their stubborn child refuses to eat the organic, steamed vegetables arranged as a spaceship on the child’s plate. Especially a mother who has not slept properly because of a little baby who is teething, with stacks of laundry, stumbling on food particles and toys that send shockwaves up the body, who has to make it to work and drop a child off at childcare.

I know. I have been there. I have felt the acute tiredness and restlessness and utter helplessness that a mother feels in those moments. To then have your child not eat the nutritious food that you spent hours preparing is basically the last straw. And you want to throw your hands up and say, “that’s it. I’m over it. HAVE THE DAMN CHIPS.”

But a lesson that I have faced over and over again in the past four years of my parenting career is perseverance. If there were ever a test of your character, of your selflessness, it is trying to raise a child. Because over and over again you have to make the choice between what is best for them, or what is easier for you now.

In those moments of sheer exhaustion and that sense that you are overcome by the mountain of your responsibilities, such that you actually lose part of your sanity, know that if you make the conscious decision to persevere and make the right choice, your child will be a better person, and so will you.

We have to fully understand that we have a responsibility over our children to protect them, nurture them, and raise them in the best possible manner. And what this means is that sometimes, we have to be the ‘bogeyman’. We have to be that figure of authority in our children’s lives that delivers truth to them. The truth of the cost of making bad food decisions. Because when they are teenagers, or adults, after a lifetime of making bad food choices, they will wonder why their parents did not teach them that this was wrong.

Of course we must discipline and raise our children with kindness, gentleness and love. But at the same time, we must be stern when we have to be.

We must be authoritative.

Not authoritarian.

So many times over a battle at meal time did I hear relatives say to me, “just let her have the cake!”, “just let her eat what she wants!”, or “She’s just a child!”

And in those moments I felt the guilt, I felt that questioning voice of whether I was being too stern on my daughter. Questioning whether it would be easier to just let her do as she pleased, to eat what she wanted.

But you know what? I didn’t give in. Because as a parent, my ultimate concern is not what is easier for us now, but what will make a better person in the future.

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The other day my husband took the girls grocery shopping.

When he got back my husband related this incident to me…

We were at the grocery store. The new one that I haven’t been to yet. I happened to wander into the confectionary aisle lined with chocolate and lollies. J (my eldest daughter) didn’t say a word until we had made it towards the middle of the aisle. She turned to me and said, “Baba, why are you in this aisle? Don’t you know that lollies and chocolate are bad for you?”

When he told me, I cried. Literally.

Perseverance paid off.

And believe me when I tell you dear fellow parent, that you are capable of persevering through those excruciatingly difficult moments when you are faced with a choice. A choice between allowing your child who has not even been in the world for five years and therefore knows nothing about it, to do as they please, or making the right choice for them because you are the adult, you know better, you want what is best for them, because YOU are the Parent.

What are some ways that you have navigated the dietary demands of your children?